Beta-alanine A guide

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Beta-alanine (or β-alanine) is a popular supplement among endurance and strength athletes. It would have a beneficial effect on muscle endurance. But is that true? And does that help you as a strength athlete?

The main points:

1.   Supplementation with beta-alanine has a modest, proven positive effect on athletic endurance. That effect is only there for sports performances that last between 60 and 240 seconds. Beta-alanine can therefore especially help you with all kinds of cardio at medium distances.

2.   You may also benefit from beta-alanine supplementation in your strength training, but only with relatively long-lasting efforts, such as long sets (drop sets, supersets, metabolic finishers) and circuit training. It is doubtful whether beta-alanine also has an effect on a typical hypertrophy program (8-15 reps, 1-3 minutes rest, etc.).

3.   The recommended dose is 2-6 grams per day, preferably taken during a meal.

4.   Beta-alanine does not work acutely: it takes several weeks to reach maximum effectiveness. In this sense, beta-alanine has no place in pre-workouts.

WHAT IS BETA-ALANINE AND HOW DOES IT WORK?

Beta-alanine is a variant of the amino acid alanine and a building block of carnosine, a multifunctional dipeptide (a molecule consisting of two amino acids joined together) consisting of the amino acids beta-alanine and L-histidine.

So in addition to beta-alanine, the body also needs histidine to make carnosine. Because the body has an excess of histidine, beta-alanine in particular is the limiting factor in the production of carnosine. Supplementation with pure beta-alanine is therefore a more effective way to increase the concentrations of carnosine in the muscles than supplementation with carnosine itself.

WHAT IS THE USE OF CARNOSINE?

What does carnosine actually do in your body? And what good is those higher concentrations?

Muscle cells release their stored carnosine as soon as the amount of lactic acid in your blood increases. The production of lactic acid is inherent to strenuous exercise. That lactic acid is converted into lactate and an ‘acid’ residue. When that acid builds up, we speak of ‘acidification’, which causes that typical burning sensation in your muscles. In fact, acidification prevents your muscles from contracting. What carnosine does is counteract that acidification, so that you get tired less quickly and can sustain an effort for longer.

As you may know, the energy for short, explosive efforts is primarily provided by the phosphate system (perhaps the terms ‘ATP’ or ‘adenosine triphosphate’ and ‘creatine phosphate’ mean something to you). Only when that energy is used up does the lactic acid system and therefore also carnosine come into play. Supplementation with beta-alanine therefore does not promote maximum strength, as creatine does, but muscle endurance. But that might also help you as a strength athlete.

RESEARCH

The claim that beta-alanine supplementation likely increases muscle endurance was confirmed in 2012 by a meta-analysis i ] . It concerned an analysis of fifteen studies into the effects of beta-alanine supplementation. Ten of the fifteen studies were independent, five were sponsored from the supplement industry.

The analysis shows that beta-alanine supplementation may improve performance during exercise between 60 and 240 seconds. This is especially interesting for medium-distance endurance athletes, such as runners, rowers and swimmers. And with certain forms of cardio, such as High Intensity Interval Training, provided you move intensively for at least 60 seconds. Although the effect is quite modest: an average increase of 2.85% in endurance was measured. With more prolonged efforts (> 240 seconds) there was no longer any effect.

A second review article of studies was published in 2015, by the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) ii ] . Their conclusion:

Daily supplementation with 4 to 6 g of beta-alanine for at least 2 to 4 weeks has been shown to improve exercise performance, with more pronounced effects in 1 to 4 minute sports activities. ii ]

The ISNN also considers supplementation with beta-alanine to be safe, even though a tingling sensation may develop in the skin after ingestion – a potentially annoying, but not dangerous side effect.

DOES IT ALSO HELP YOU AS A STRENGTH ATHLETE?

As a strength athlete you can benefit from beta-alanine if you do cardio (in the cut) . But what about strength training, after all, the reason why most use beta-alanine?

For the time being, beta-alanine seems to have little or no effect on sports performance for less than a minute and therefore not on performance within typical hypertrophy training (sets of 8-15 repetitions with one to three minutes of rest in between).

With sports performances shorter than a minute, for example, sprinting, you apparently do not benefit from supplementation with beta-alanine. The same applies to strength sports aimed at muscle growth (hypertrophy). Most performances (read: sets) that you deliver with such strength training, last less than 60 seconds.

So in the average hypertrophy training, beta-alanine is not of much use, concludes coach and podcaster Eric Texler viii ] . He bases this in part on a new study that concludes:

An 8-week training period elicited significant strength and morphological responses. However, the addition of beta-alanine supplementation did not improve these adaptive results ix ] .

According to Texler, there is still too little research showing that beta-alanine can enhance the performance of strength athletes bodybuilding style:

Not much research has been done on the effects of beta-alanine on a typical hypertrophy program. Moreover, the results of the studies are quite different. More research is needed to draw firm conclusions. vii ]

METABOLIC STRENGTH TRAINING

Is beta-alanine then virtually useless for the strength athlete? Not that either. With special forms of strength training, namely metabolic, it is likely that beta-alanine can help, for example with extra long sets (with many repetitions), whether or not in the form of  drop sets and/or supersets. And also in metabolic workouts where you do several exercises in succession without rest time, such as circuit training vii ] .

INTERACTION WITH CREATINE

And there may be another benefit for strength athletes. Supplementation with beta-alanine may have a reinforcing effect when using creatine. The ISSN found a number of studies suggesting that creatine + beta-alanine has a greater effect on different types of sports performance than taking creatine alone. But the amount of studies and the results are not yet convincing enough to speak of a real synergy between the two supplements ii ] [ vi ] .

HOW DO YOU USE AND DOSE BETA-ALANINE?

Beta-alanine, like creatine, does not work immediately. Only after one to two weeks of daily supplementation with the substance will the concentration of carnosine in your muscles have increased enough to be able to notice an effect. You can increase that concentration by a maximum of about 80%. While beta-alanine is often found in  pre-workout supplements, its action is not acute vi ] .

Beta-alanine is usually offered in powder form. The standard dose is 4-6 grams per day. But even a relatively small dose (1.6 g) is already effective iii ] . If you’re taking a beta-alanine pre-workout, adjust your dose accordingly.

If you continue to take beta-alanine daily, the concentration of carnosine in the muscles will continue to rise for about two to three months. Once the maximum achievable increase is reached, the carnosine level will remain there as long as you continue to use beta-alanine. If you stop taking the supplement, the beta-alanine can continue to work for weeks, depending on how well you respond to the supplement v ] .

A large dose of beta-alanine can cause a tingling sensation. Although harmless, this side effect is experienced as unpleasant by many people. It is therefore preferable to spread your intake over several moments, for example by taking it in the morning and evening and/or before and after your training. Beta-alanine also works better if you take it with a meal iv ] . A pre- or post-workout shake also counts as a meal in this regard.

Beta-alanine supplementation is safe ii ] [ vi ] . You can continue to use it daily if you wish.

CONCLUSION

Supplementation with beta-alanine has a modest, proven positive effect on sporting endurance. That effect is only there for sports performances that last between 60 and 240 seconds. Beta-alanine can therefore especially help you with all kinds of cardio at medium distances.

You might also benefit from beta-alanine supplementation in your strength training, but only for relatively long activities, such as long sets (drop sets, supersets, metabolic finishers) and circuit training.

Keep in mind that beta-alanine doesn’t work acutely, even though it’s often in pre-workouts. It takes several weeks to reach maximum effectiveness.

REFERENCES

  • i ] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22270875
  • ii ]  https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-015-0090-y
  • iii ] http://www.ergogenics.org/ook-a-bit-beta-alanine-is-effective.html
  • iv ] http://www.ergogenics.org/beta-alanine-works-better-when-you-take-it-during-meal.html
  • v ] http://www.ergogenics.org/nadat-you-stopped-swallowing-is-beta-alanine-still-weeks-long-work.html
  • vi ] https://examine.com/supplements/beta-alanine/
  • vii ] http://ergogenics.org/circuittraining-beta-alanine.html
  • viii ] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtcwWp_mCJs&t=454s
  • ix ] https://www.termedia.pl/Does-beta-alanine-supplementation-enhance-adaptations-to-resistance-training-A-randomized-placebo-controlled-double-blind-study,78,46284.0 ,1.html

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